Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"The Condemned": a new "haunted mansion" thriller from Puerto Rico, with medical (even Holocaust) overtones

The Condemned” (“Los condenados”) is a new film by Roberto Buso-Garcia from Puerto Rico, which seems like a somewhat minimalist combination of “The Shining” (April 14) and “Shutter Island”.

Ana (Christina Rodlo) travels to the town of Rosales to restore her dying father’s family mansion itno a public museum to honor his anti-cancer work.  Soon, she has to deal with hostile, impoverished townspeople (the mansion is an oasis in a decaying town).  Then the house, where the father lies upstairs, starts acting haunted. 

It isn’t too long before the awful truth about what the father really did to patients starts to leak out.  If this happened to me, I wouldn’t want to live.  Remember, though, forty years ago, when radiation treatment was becoming more common, it had many more side effects, including cosmetic (such as permanent hair loss) than it does today, where it can be internally targeted. (A particularly graphic picture of the aftermath of radiation for Hodgkin's Disease on a male chest from a 1979 medical textbook comes to mind.)  
The film has a particularly interesting visual effect with a ceiling to floor chandelier, which fairly shakes when the ghosts roam.
The DVD will be available from Strand on May 7, 2013.  I did the review from a private Vimeo screener.

The film is in Spanish. I don't recall an important indie film from Puerto Rico before. 

The official site is here

Don’t confuse with a 2007 "thriller" film with the same (English) name. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

"Mud": new cultural thriller recalls the 60s' "The Chase"; Lionsgate has a new look

“My name is Mud.”  So says a river fugitive to two teenage boys by Matthew McConaughey’s grungy and tattooed character two pre-teen boys in Jeff Nichols’s new hit drama “Mud”.
The boys (Ellis and Neckbone, played by Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) look, more like 12 than the 14 that they say they are, but Ellis particularly has tremendous energy and charisma. They’re good at doing things with their lands, like fixing old boats that run.  They “sail” to a wild island in the Mississippi River bordering Arkansas and find a boat strung up in a tree.  Soon they encounter “Mud”, who is able to manipulate them into helping him escape and keeping his secret.

Mud is on the run, from a murder in Texas, which might have sounded justifiable.  The boys, especially Ellis, don’t have the judgment to understand the bigger picture;  instead the most important virtue is to carry out a military-style loyalty.
The movie gradually explores the boys’ families (divorce, of course), and the social and work environment of river “white trash”.  
This is a long film (130 minutes) and Nichols manages to spin a captivating tale among people whom one might not sympathize with.  Reese Withersppon and Sam Shepard also star.
I saw the film before a large Sunday afternoon audience at the Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax, VA. The audience seemed to enjoy it (judging from informal reactions).  Nobody thought of the characters as "losers".  That seems to be a valuable skill in screenwriting -- to gain the interest of the audience in "real people" with understandable "fatal flaws".  
This is another film released by the business consortium of Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions, and produced with Everest Entertainment.  Lionsgate now has a new bombastic trademark ritual, with the heavens and stars but no machine gears (to shake off the “Saw” image).  The new music isn’t on YouTube yet. 
The official site is here.

This film reminds me of a classic 60s thriller, “The Chase”, which I saw in Kansas while in graduate school. That film (from Columbia and Arthur Penn) offered Marlon Brando and Jane Fonda, and Robert Redford as “Bubba Reeves” who is escaped from prison while his wife has an affair with the sheriff’s friend.  The whole town anticipates his “return”.  

For today's short film, look at my GLBT blog (April 28), "The Story of Tracks Nightclub". 

Wikipedia attribution link for Mississippi River picture. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

"The Boys Next Door": 1985 rampage film from a pair with bizarre parallels to Boston

There is an older independent film that may sound relevant to the Boston Marathon incident, as to what motivates this sort of action among some young men. That 1985 film is “The Boys Next Door”, by Penelope Spheeris, from New World Pictures and Anchor Bay.
Right after high school graduation, Roy (Maxwell Caulfield) and Bo (Charlie Sheen, 19 when he made this film) face a lifetime of blue collar factory work in their hometown (apparently Phoenix).  Resentful perhaps that rich people have more opportunity for college and for power, they take off on a wilding trip to Los Angeles, actually kidnapping a little dog at first.  Roy quickly turns violent at a gas station robbery.  Bo is unable to stop himself from following along his more “charismatic” friend. 
The rampage becomes more violent quickly. The two go into a bar in West Hollywood. When they find out that it is a gay bar, they invite themselves home, and Roy beats up and shoots the gay man. Then they turn their attention to heterosexuals in lovers lanes.  Finally they get cornered by cops in a shopping mall.  Even though he will probably face the death penalty in California anyway, Bo turns on Roy and shoots him as the police close in.
The opening of the film makes a statement to the effect that rampage killers are usually young charismatic white men. Fortunately, I’ve never encountered anything like this with anyone I have known in my whole life.

There really is no motive here, no pretense of a religious or political ideology at all.  

Saturday, April 27, 2013

"Disconnect": A cyber version of "Crash"?

Disconnect”, the new Altman-style episodic drama from Henry Alex Rubin, maybe well be a cyberspace answer to “Crash” (Haggis) a few years ago.  As a whole, the characters are quite likeable enough to make this the breakout film it might have been.
The crux of the story has a private investigator Mike (Frank  Grillo) helping a distraught couple Derek and Cindy (Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton), after their identities are stolen.  It seems that Derek doesn’t have enough cash to pay his bills and faces repossessions and evictions, while his cards are frozen.   It’s unclear how naïve they are about the danger on the Net.  Mike has a fiery attorney (Jason Bateman) for a son, who intern has a tween boy engaged in online cyberhullying that results in a suicide attempt.   In another part of town (apparently on Long Island), Nina (Andrea Riseborough) gets unwisely involved with a teen porn star Jyle (Max Thieriot), who swears he’s 18.  But he he isn’t, she could risk jail.

I’ve seen Thieriot look "virile" in other movies (“The House at the End of the Street”, Oct. 4, 2013 here). It was shocking to see his body (even arms and legs) shaved (rather plucked like a chicken’s) and upper chest tattooed ("disfiguringly") in order to look like a larval underage punk.  Only a pervert could find him attractive.  What actors go through for parts! Please, don’t imagine him naked. 

The movie gradually gathers momentum, as it moves in lightning shots between various characters, toward a showdown that seems contrived.  You expect a tragedy at the end.  I won’t tell you if you see one.
The film (from the Toronto Film Festival) is distributed by Liddell Entertainment., link here

I saw this before a fair crowd at the Angelika Moasic in Merrifield, VA.  Great café food (like the deviled eggs).

Does anyone remember that silly thriller "The Net" from 1995 (Columbia Pictures, Irwin Winkler)? 

Second pic: Valley Stream Park, LI (mine, March, 2013)/  

Friday, April 26, 2013

"The Spy Next Door": goofy comedy from Jackie Chan can mask serious issues

Sometimes, very serious issues become the subject of slapstick or situation comedy, and that is the case with the 2010 film “The Spy Next Door”, by Brian Levant, from Lionsgate, Relativity Media, and “I am Rogue”. 
The film amuses the audience by starting with a recapitulation (as if part of a series) of action scenes from  pervious Jackie Chan movies.
This time, Bob Ho (Chan) is getting ready to “retire” , despite intelligence around that the Russians or Chinese or whoever else want to change all of America’s and Western Europe’s oil reserves into a useless yellow power. 
At the same time, Gillian (Amber Valletta), apparently a single soccer mom,  needs a babysitter after her father is injured, and Bob gets called upon to prove that he has a way with kids.  The movie may recall the Minnesota indie flick “I Hate Babysitting” (2000), but some of the terror contraband winds up on one of the kids’ computers (and his iPod).  It all sounds pretty contrived. 
There is a blond Russian spy Larry (Lucas Till), who looks like a 21-year-old icon from a gay disco floor.  He says he is majoring in English literature.  (My own father used to ask, “Why would a man ever want to teach English? Plenty of male English teachers are football coaches, too.)  The real life Till has an interesting resume on Imdb, already producing sci-fi movies at the age of 22.  In this movie, he seems out of place.
“All’s well that ends well.”  (That's English literature, just as in "Blood of Dracula".) Ho (if that’s his real name) winds up marrying Gillian.  Libertarians like to see miscegenation.
The supposed official site seems to have been overlaid by :Yellow Pages".  There is a Facebook page here

The yellow powder reminded me of the "yellowcake" from Alfred Hitchcock's "Notorious" (reviewed. Dec. 20, 2009).  And the music score here featured "Secret Agent" (a 1936 Hitchcock film, reviewed here Oct.22, 2012/  

The film can be rented on YouTube for $1.99.  

Thursday, April 25, 2013

"To the Wonder": Another meditation from Malick, largely set in the heartland; stunning music

To the Wonder” may seem like a post-script to director Terrence Malick’s theological “The Tree of Life”, and that earlier compendium is even quoted in the newer film. It also has a story culturally and structurally similar to yesterday’s film (“Upstream Color”).  Much of it is filmed around Bartlesville, OK, maybe 300 miles from Dallas in yesterday’s film.  You had a feeling that Ben Affleck (Neil) and Shane Carruth could easily trade places; they have similar charisma.
The music score, compiled by New Zealand composer Hanan Townshend, brings together a lot of less common but effective classical music, including a Dvorak Slavonic Dance and a Gorecki symphony, and the prelude to Wagner’s “Parsifal”.  The music credits rolled so fast that I couldn’t read them.  Was that slow, modulating theme often played by John Adams? There is discussion of the score (website url) here
The story is innocent enough. In the opening, Neil and Marina (Olga Kurylenko) fall in love in Paris, and one a particularly touching visit to Mont St. Michel (the film shows the liquidity of the tide sands).  Neil brings her back to Oklahoma, where he works as an environmental inspector.   Mairna, from the Ukarine and divorced, raises a daughter Tatiana whom she brings with her.   Olga befriends another exile, a Catholic priest (Javier Bardem).  When Marina’s visa expires, she has to go back to France with her daughter, while Neil is “distracted” by another girl friend, Jane (Rachel McAdams). 
Visually, the film was stunning, particularly on a large, almost Imax-sized screen at Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield (Fairfax) Va.  There are many scenes in a high-end suburban development of mega-homes, similar to those in Dallas (they don’t have basements).  There is a ranch scene with a stunning vista of the distant Ozarks.  There are also scenes of poverty, among the parishoners of the priest. 
I can recall a road trip with friends (from Dallas) in 1981, first to Tulsa, then to the Ozarks, where we visited a family that lived in a run down rural mobile home park.  The level of the poverty was just about the same in this movie.
The official site (Magnolia Pictures) is here. (Yesterday’s film would make a good companion release.) 

Picture: Arbuckle Mountains, OK,  my image, Nov. 2011

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"Upstream Color": The world according to Shane Carruth (that is, David Lynch does Dallas); Texas filmmaking is strong

The new psychedelic trip, “Upstream Color”, by Shane Carruth, comes across as a kind of heterosexual “Judas Kiss” (June 4, 2011). Both films have a “Shane” who can be as overpowering and demanding as the original from the famous western.
I do recall Carruth’s earlier “Primer”, produced for $7000, where nice young business executives in Dallas played with a time machine.
Again, the setting is Dallas – with settings ranging from the DART station on Mockingbird (I think, near the Angelika center) to pig farms to Lake Lewisville north of the city on I-35. It’s good to see real locations when you lived there for nine years in the 1980s (I was last there in November 2011). 

The film falls roughly into three parts. In the opening, Kris (Amy Seimetz) deals with her demons, which include larval bugs crawling under her skin.  Is this a drug trip, or psychosis?  Well, we get to see the larva, as a neighboring teen (Myles McGee) cultivates them.  She has a couple of man-friends, one of whom seems to have a pig farm.  Well, pardon me, this man (Frank Mosley) is supposed to be her husband, and seems rather inert and nondescript. 

Enter the hero, Jeff – that is, Shane himself.  The middle part of the movie details their intimate relationship, and also gives up “Jeff’s” manipulative background.  Now Shane, 40 according to imdb – looks much younger, like about 28 or so.  As with Gabriel Mann (Nolan) on ABC’s “Revenge”, it helps to be very lean.  In this case, Shane is both taut and hairy, the perfect male.  He seems free-wheeling, and says he does everything in cash, because he got caught in some kind of securities fraud.  I wondered, why would Shane present “himself” this way (as a likable swindler)..  People wondered that about one of my own scripts (“The Sub”) where a character based on me falls for temptation. 
The plot, loose as it is, goes in a logical direction.  There’s a love triangle of sorts, and Kris needs to get the wrong man out of the way. 

The film (2..35:1) has a brooding moog music score by Carruth himself.  He really shows talent for composing – maybe his music could get performed in concert by other friends I have covered on my “Drama and Music” blog.   It seems like a number of actors and directors started out in the art world with piano lessons. 

Apparently Shane’s wife plays the “orchid mother”. 

The official site is here

Shane says that his work is a “topiary” (metaphor), where one character doesn’t need to know what the others are doing.  The tone of the film definitely recalls David Lynch.  It also (in the beginning) reminds me of the classic horror short “Bugcrush” (Jan. 28, 2008).  

I saw this at the West End Cinema, early evening show, before a small crowd.

The film is self-distributed by “Erbp”, Carruth’s own company.  It strikes me as a logical entry for the catalogue of fellow Texan Mark Cuban’s “Magnolia Pictures” and HDNet, however. 
The film played at Sundance.  Did it play at festivals in Texas (like SXSW)?  Had it not already been released, it probably would have been in FilmfestDC. 

Picture: from my visit, 2011, DART on Mockingbird Lane in Dallas (Northpark used to be there; Angelika is there now.) 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"Oblivion": great sci-fi spectacle, great music, underwhelming story concept

I’m not such a big fan of science fiction set in a post-apocalyptic world where few people are left around, or where there are practically no remnants left of the enticing trappings of the familiar modern world.  I’m much more interested in seeing “how it happened” and if anything can stop it.  That’s why the NBC series “The Event” worked a lot better for me than does “Revolution”.

But the new sci-fi action flick from Joseph Kosinski, “Oblivion”, may not need much population for its first half, with an ageless Tom Cruise Mapother IV (age 50)  as the hero.  He can go shirtless and look like a teenager right out of “Risky Business”.

The early part of the film shows an Earth destroyed by cataclysms, which had resulted when an alien race called the “Scav’s” broke up the Moon, leading to tremendous earthquakes and tsunamis on Earth.  The CGI image of the Moon in pieces is pretty effective.  But the geography of the remaining Earth is in tatters.  It may all be a desert, but the Empire State Building crest is nowhere near Yosemite.   
Cruise plays Jack Harper (maybe inspired by the Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper), whose post-sports career consists of repairing airborne drones.  He lives in a Dubai-Burj-sized tower over the clouds with a female partner Vaca (Andrea Riseborough), who seems to enjoy her gigantic iPad-style control panels. 
Harper’s narration says that the remaining Earth residents (after “winning” the war with nukes) moved to Titan (the most interesting moon of Saturn, with its methane rain and lakes). But when he eventually comes into contact with the spaceship supposedly populated by Scavs, he finds out that they are really reprocessed humans (led by the omniscient Morgan Freeman).  Did any survivors really go to Titan?  How would they survive there?   
The story is complicated (there is already a long synopsis on imdb), and it seems to wander among areas of reality in a manner that mind recall the film “Inception”; but  Kosinski doesn’t succeed in making his worldview as compelling as does Christopher Nolan.  Eventually, Harper finds out he has a doppleganger, and we enter some of the ideas of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (itself filmed at least four times).  Harper has been cloned a multiplicity of times.  (Really, wouldn’t most men like to live in a clone of Bryce Harper’s body rather than their own? And which body and soul are real?  Or can a sould move among bodies?) 
The visuals of the Scav space ship (up in orbit somewhere) internals are interesting, and remind one of a sequence in the first “Star Trek” movie back in 1979.
There is a long lost wife Julia (Olga Kurylenko) and family that comes into the story, and there is redemption at the end.  Somewhere around a cabin in a Sierra-Nevada-like paradise (maybe near Tahoe),  a new family will form and civilization will bloom again.  Hooray for family values. 
I think a sci-fi movie where mankind is spread among several planets (maybe Mars, Europa, and Titan, and maybe even the high clouds of Venus in a balloon) and can communicate, could be interesting.  Within the Solar System, you could have Facebook available, with at most a three hour delay in posting. 

During the closing credits, Kosinski does show up some graphics (worked over from live shots taken in Iceland) of what Titan really might look like.  And that closing song (sung by Susamme Sundfor, composed by Anthony Gonzalez and “feat M83”) is great – in a league with “Skyfall”.  The theme has great Mahlerian leaps and would be hard to sing. 
The official site from Universal is here

I saw this Monday afternoon at Regal in Arlington, and you don’t know whether you get a large auditorium.  I saw it in a small one.  But with digital high definition, it doesn’t matter much.  But Regal always says, “Go big or go home.”

I could expand on the concept of a movie that shows "how it happens" when it doesn't end well for humanity.  I suppose that this could sound nihilistic (as in the film "Melancholia").  It seems more acceptable to audiences to present a dystopian world, post-apocalypse, rather than show what mojo it takes to make it through a global catastrophe, where only "the angels" make it. 
 Pictures: Mine (2012).   

Monday, April 22, 2013

"Home Run" gets far too "religious" for the good of baseball

I drove out to the far exurbs (Ashburn, VA, in Loudoun County, at a new Regal) to see “Home Run” because it is a baseball movie. And the film, from director David Boyd, is, not surprisingly, a Christian film, that the theater owners prefer to exhibit in more rural and “conservative” and often religious communities.
If you’re going to make a faith-based and socially conservative movie, fine.  Please build characters that you can like. Have a real plot and suspense.  “Abel’s Field”, a few weeks ago, did that. 
But this film turned preachy toward the end as a lot of people, whom some people would see as “losers”, stood up and announced their submission to “Him” in what was supposed to be a faith-based twelve-step program.  No problem with that – I don’t think that’s what happens. The film isn't just "religious" or faith-based; as Bill Maher says, it's "Religulous".  

The film opens as a young Cory is bullied by his father on the family farm by the “six strikes” rule.  He does learn to be a good left-handed hitter.  Cut to the modern day, and Cory hits what should be an inside-the-park home run but misses third base because he is drunk and is called out on appeal.  That one scene in the film was technically effective. 

He throws a tantrum, injures a batboy, and is suspended on condition of completing a twelve-step program.  But he keeps drinking during the program, and even causes injury in an auto DWI wreck. 

Cory is played by Scott Elrod, who looks appealing enough, until the high-definition digital images in Regal’s outstanding new projection system show that he shaves his forearms.  Justin Timberlake seems to have done that.

The film does convey the intimacy and dynamics of young family life at times, and suggests the idea that it can draw others in.

The setting of the film, Oklahoma, in and around Tulsa, looks appealing enough. 
But the filmmakers had to “greek” all the MLB team names.  Apparently MLB wouldn’t license their trademark use in this film for any reasonable price.  Was that because of the “religious” purpose? 
The official site (Samuel Goldwyn Films) is here

Sunday, April 21, 2013

"Informant": The mysterious life of activist Brandon Darby: did he really switch sides?

FilmfestDC offered the documentary “Informant”, by Jamie Meltzer, at the NYU Auditorium near Franklin Square yesterday. If there is such a thing as a documentary thriller, this 85-minute-film fits the bill.  It felt like the perfect complement to “Paris under Watch” Friday night.
The film tells the story of activist Brandon Darby, now about 38, who switched political allegiances because of his desire to act in a way that “helps people” immediately.  Brandon was raised near an oil refinery near Houston, but moved to Austin as a young man.  He has a daughter, although the film does not deal with his romantic life at all.
In 2005, he drove to New Orleans after Katrina to help survivors, and actually swam through toxic water (against police orders) in the Ninth Ward to rescue a stranded friend.  His bravery and willingness to take personal risks to help others is quite striking.  He helped organize “Common Ground” at the grassroots.  Later, he traveled to Venezuela and Colombia and his feelings about left-wing activism changed.  He began to see the Left as highly indignant, and possibly leading the country simply into destructive anarchy.  Ironically, though, he felt that a little anarchy was a good thing.  Tea party and libertarian values started to appeal to him. 

Through a twist in his personality that is hard to explain, he, after being approached, decided to help tie FBI working undercover to “entrap” protestors planning to disrupt the Republican Convention in St. Paul, MN (at the Xcel Center, which I remember). 

He “worked” with a couple of idealistic young men who wanted to make Molotov cocktails and throw them at parked police and “rich people’s” cars.  The activists rationalized their activity by saying they would damage property only, not hurt people.  But when Brandon probed them about the possibility someone could get hurt, they were willing to take that risk.  (I pointed this out in the QA afterwards, that political and religious radicals – particularly the extreme Left --  often think that regular people have it coming to them – even one of the Boston “people” is reported to have said that – and some audience members sounded offended).   

The young activists (themselves from Austin) would be arrested, prosecuted and do jail time for federal offenses WMD possession.  (“Property damage” alone can kill people, by the way – look at the RF or EMP “threat” discussed elsewhere, as on April 13 on the Books blog).  Brandon had worn a wire (which could be interesting, if you remember a particular scene from “Se7en”).  The defense would claim that the young men had been set up.

The far Left considered Brandon to be a “snitch”, and the "fibbies" even offered Brandon witness protection,  For a public person like him (or even me), of course, that’s impossible.(as in the 2006 Lifetime film “Family in Hiding”). 

This film should not be confused with a similar film about activism, “The Informant”, with Matt Damon, reviewed here Sept. 18, 2009.    

Official site is here

For documentary, this film kept me on the edge of my seat.  The style of filming did interview people (including Brandon Darby in his Austin home), but it bordered on docudrama. The subject matter seems to belong to a John Grisham thriller. 
The main production company is Lucky Hat.  Will this film wind up on HBO or PBS Independent Lens, or maybe be rebroadcast by CNN?  I’d like to see a theatrical company  pick it up first.  

Pictures: New Orleans (2006), St. Paul Mississippi River (2002), mine.  

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A "professor's" Guide to Ideology

I screened the lengthy  (134 minutes)“meta-documentary” “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology” tonight at the NYU Abramson Auditorium near Franklin Square in Washington DC, on the last night of FilmfestDC.  The film, directed by Sophie Fiennes,  is written and narrated by University of Ljubljana professor Slavoj Zizek.  The film is a sequel to “A Pervert’s Guide to  Cinema” (2006).

In general, “ideology” means the “purpose beyond the self” that we are expected to live for, whether we express it in religious terms (Allah, God, Jehovah) or social (“the common good”, eusociality). To me, the term evokes Rock Warren’s “The Purpose-Driven Life”.  But in the end, Zizek believes that maybe it does need to be about you.

The professor develops his these by looking at perhaps 20 movies, starting with  “They Live” (1988, John Carpenter) in which a drifter Nada (Roddy Piper) finds a pair of sunglasses through which, in black and white, he always sees the subliminal message behind everything (like “marry and procreate”).  He follows to “The Sound of Music”, some of Stanley Kubrick’s films (like ‘Clockwork Orange”, discussed in “Room 237” (April 14),  Full Metal Jacket”, the Russian film “The Fall of Berlin (1949), Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” (2008).  Martin Scorcese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988), and “Seconds” (1966, John Frankenheimer).

Of course, once we accept a “higher purpose”, there is every risk that leadership will become corrupt and exploit it.  Zizek shows how this process was fundamentally the same with Fascism and Communism (he spends more time on Stalin than Hitler).  Nevertheless, the individual is in a position to “carry his weight” and maintain loyalty to the group. Somewhat infrequently in the grand scheme of things, the individual may have to confront that his affinity group, however established by propinquity, may have evil purposes.
Happiness and joy are themselves separated within the personality into “objects”, particularly within Catholicism (as he demonstrates with “Sound of Music”).  The power of the military can become overpowering in determining the personal values in the culture (as shown in “Full Metal Jacket” – and developed in the Army Basic chapter in my own manuscript “The Proles” as well as in Chapter 2 of my first DADT book).  Zizek discusses the crucifixion in comparison to the Book of Job, and concludes that that Christianity liberates the individual from a purpose defined by “God”.  In the end, he supports an individualistic, libertarian outlook and capitalism after all.

I was quite impressed with the music in the background of “Fall of Berlin” – it is the closing bombastic passage of one of Richard Strauss’s last works, “Freedom’s Day”. 

Zizek also describes how the "Ode to Joy" theme from the finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony has been misused by totalitarian idealogues, ranging from Hitler to Chairman Mao,  He shows Bernstein conducting it at the Christmas concert in Berlin in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall (a CD than I have).  

With his analysis of “The Dark Knight” (Batman), Zizek shows that the “goodness” of those in power was fake, and suggests that a dark character (the Joker) is necessary to show up the truth. It sounds horrible, but somehow this sort of thinking drove James Holmes mad in Colorado, it seems.  This part of the film as probably filmed before the July 2012 mass shooting in Colorado.

The wiki entry for the film lists all the films excepted, here

The film was shot in 2.35:1 aspect to fit all the films, and often the narrator appears alone in the same aspect (and similar scenery) as the film he has just discussed.  So the screen was constantly "shape-shifting". 

The official site (Film4, etc) is here.

Friday, April 19, 2013

"Paris Under Watch": riveting thriller about the "politics" of terror plays at FilmfestDC at the same time Boston suspect 2 is captured

Tonight, I saw the virtuoso new French-Arabic thriller “Paris Under Watch” (“Aux yeux de tous”, “Through all of our eyes”)  by Cedric Jimenez, at the AMC Mazza as a Filmfest DC presentation.
While I watched the film on a prepurchased ticket (the large auditorium was almost sold out), a heavy thunderstorm raged outside, adding sound effects to the opening scene with the Paris subway explosion. 
During the time I was in the theater, apparently the second suspect in the Boston Marathon attack was apprehended.  It was uncanny that this film was aired at the same time, on April 19. Another patron mentioned the arrest , which he had seen on the cell phone, as we left the theater.
Early in the film, the media claims that security tapes of the event were destroyed, but soon we see a figure, from the back, male (from the forearms with blond hairs), stocking cap, entering Linux commands into some sort of command center, with all kinds of connections, terminals, and ham equipment around.  We see the entire story of the attack, of how Sam (Olivier Bathelemy) was tricked into what he thought was a fake attack, how his girl friend  Marie (Valerie Sibilia) wants them to turn themselves in – even though Sam did this to raise money for Marie’s mom.  He go from filial responsibility (where Muslim immigrants typically have to send money home) to the politics of terror. 
In the end of this fast-moving film, we learn the capability of both governments and teenagers living with their moms, with no real moral compass yet.  

The official site from Film Distribution of France is here
This will be a real hit in the US when it finds North American distribution. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Eiffel Tower picture, near where I stayed in May 2001.

It’s important to note that many stations on the Paris Metro have plexiglass security to protect the tracks.  No US city does.  That point well made in a 1999 Nightline special about a hypothetical attack on a US subway. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"Elemental": "water" film looks at the Ganges, tar sands, and the stratosphere "spiral"

On Thursday, April 18, 2013, FilmfestDC offered another environmental film as part of its “Green Screen” or “Earth Month” in the Columbia Room at Union Station, “Elemental”, by Gayatri Roshan and Emmanuel Vaughn-Lee. 
The film centers somewhat on water, with three parallel environmental stories, interleaved. In India, Rajendra Singh recruits the masses to help clean up the Ganges, often with dirty manual labor and wading in muck. Toward the end, the film shows us the source of the river in the Himalaya.
In northern Alberta, Eriel Deranger leads demonstrations against the tar sands project, which has disfigured an area the size of New Jersey, although the land is largely flat so there isn’t an issue with mountaintop removal.  The film gets into moral questions about using land of aboriginal or native peoples, but the oil companies claim that they have given then people “real jobs” and real money. Plenty of arrests and demonstrations are shown, including those in October 2011 in front of the White House, specifically against the XL Pipeline. 

In California, a nearly bankrupt Australian inventor, Jay Harman proposes a system based on a mathematical concept, based on a fractal and vortex, to shot reflective compounds into the stratosphere and reverse global warming.  The film doesn’t explain the concept particularly well. At the end. Harman retires into the woods in a cabin, in poverty.  
The link for the film is here.  The film also aired in Austin and Cleveland film festivals.  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"Shored Up": Looking at coastal property development in view of climate change, natural storms

Shored Up”, presented today by FilmfestDC as a free film in the Columbia Room of Union Station in Washington DC, is presented by its director, Ben Kalina as a work in progress.  But at 84 minutes, it seemed like a pretty close-to-done study of the problems of building housing, mostly luxury resorts today, on beachfront property, particularly barrier  islands, off the coasts of New Jersey and then North Carolina.  
Much of the early part of the film presents damage from Hurricane Sandy, particularly in Union Beach, NJ, which was not wealthy enough to lobby for money for beach sand restoration projects.  Breezy Point in the Rockaways (Queens, NY) is shown briefly, as is the flooding of the subways.

 The documentary also argues that shore islands tend to move naturally, and will do so more with climate change.
The film presents the history of a March 1962 noreaster which was as destructive as Sandy to some beach communities.  (The same storm produced heavy snow inland, west of Washington DC).  Yet, much of the same area was rebuilt within 20 years, with residents having short memories.  Developers seem to have no awareness of the dangers of living in a coastal area – or they may not care.  One homeowner on the North Carolina coast said he needed only five years in his unprotected house to break even before losing it.

A Republican North Carolina congresswoman says that conservatives need to rethink the meaning of "conservative" when it refers to conserving resources, and bailing out wealthy property owners.  
The official site is here

Toward the end, New York State governor Andrew Cuomo speaks, and notes that we will have to make careful decisions about where we rebuild. 

During the Q&A, a woman from the Union of Concerned Scientists spoke.  I asked about the volunteerism and “grab a hammer” spirit that was demonstrated by the public after the storm, almost oblivious to the idea that it might be unwise to rebuild.  Kalina noted that you can’t hold moderate income people  (mostly on the NY side) hostage to choices made in the past by politicians and developers.        
I report on my own trip through the area on my “Issues” blog March 13-15. Pictures (Seaside Heights NJ, and Staten Island, my trip).  

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"The Company You Keep": A journalist is almost part of the posse in untangling a 30-year-old mystery of fugitives from the radical Left

The Company You Keep” shows the capabilities of a journalist, and also the people skills needed by “establishment” reporters to get the story and break a case open.  The film, from Voltage and Sony Pictures Classics (why not Columbia?) is directed by Robert Redford himself, and is based on the novel by Neil Gordon.

The movie is also a retrospect of the values of the extreme radical Left in the 1970s, and the reasons it took up violence.  It traces a little of the history of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the mutation to the Weather Underground.  The characters talk about the corporations and politicians on top, who thought nothing of sending draft notices and sacrificing less fortunate young men in Vietnam as cannon fodder.  The old problem of whose life counts the most inevitably comes up. 
There was a documentary “The Weather Underground” in 2003, by Sam Green and Bill Siegel, which would supplement this film.

As this new film (wide screen, 124 minutes) opens, 30-year fugitive Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) is surrounded by FBI agents at a gas station near New York City.  She had planned to give herself up.  She has contacted lawyer Jim Grant (Robert Redford).  An eager reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) discovers that Grant is really Nick Sloan, a co-fugitive from the same fatal Michigan bank robbery.
Shepard, who is quite appealing as a character, is motivated by a combination of idealism and self-promotion. He goes to lengths that strain credibility. (At one point he bribes a clerk to get Sloan's SSN.)  I’m an “amateur” blogger and I do uncover things, and in my own way I probably take some arcane risks in doing so, but of a very different nature that the obvious ones in this movie – because the movie does have to entertain.  But consider the risks that reporters like Bob Woodruff took, getting a traumatic head wound in Iraq and recovering fully.  Anderson Cooper “paid his years” for years as a SE Asia reporter. Also interesting in films like this is how the names pof real newspapers are “greeked.”

A good question, that the film does not go into, would be the ability of journalists to protect sources, and it is not absolutely clear that bloggers like me could command the same privilege.  The script does demonstrate the "off the record" concept.

There are many other characters, played by A-listers.  They include Sloan’s young daughter (Jackie Evancho), Sloan’s brother (Chris Cooper), Henry (Brendan Gleeson), his daughter (Brit Marling), other fugitives (Julie Christie and Sam Elliott),  Sam’s boss (Stanley Tucci).

The official site is here

I did learn of the potentially violent possibilities of the radical Left back in 1972 when I “spied” on meetings of the Peoples Party of New Jersey.  I remember one in particular in a row house in Newark, New Jersey where even the young professional middle class (me) was seen as a parasitic enemy.  

Monday, April 15, 2013

"Tabu": New-Wave-style film tells a haunting story about African colonialism, in layers

Tabu” is an interesting two-part film from Portugal and Brazil from Miguel Gomes. It’s styled and structured in “New Wave” fashion, reminiscent of “In Praise of Love” (2001) by Jean Luc-Godard, where the second half occurred before the first half.
The film is also curious in its black-and-white format and old aspect ration (about 4:3), making it look like an old 50s film.  The music score contains a lot of jazz and rock popular 50 years ago, and an impressionistic jazz piano theme that sounds familiar but whose composer I couldn’t identify.

The film starts with a prologue in Mozambique, where Comes himself narrates the suicide of an explorer devoured by a crocodile.

In Part 1 of the film (“Paradise Lost”) , in modern Lisbon, we meet Aurora (Laura Soveral) , in her 80s, a housemaid, and a concerned neighbor.  A daughter has apparently refused contact with Aurora.  This part of the film seems a bit aimless, until the characters meet her past lover, Gian-Luca Ventura.
In Part 2  ("Paradise"), Ventura narrates the story of his affair with Aurora in the 50s, on the slopes of Mount Tabu.  Aurora (Ana Moreira) is married, and Ventura has a friend Mario (Mario Mesquita) with whom he sometimes seems intimate.  The story is presented in “silent film” fashion, while Ventura narrates. This part of the film is quite captivating. The “ending” has a certain political irony, having to do with driving European colonialism out of Africa, along with left-wing ideology – money is lost to gambling, and the plantation could be at risk of expropriation.  Some critics, however, say that Gomes looks at colonialism as an “aesthetic opportunity” rather than a moral problem. 

In one line in Part 1, Aurora says she is paying for the sins of other people.  I’m not sure I agree.
The black and white photography is quite sharp, and at time your mind wants to change the gray vegetation to dark green.  The jungle scenes were apparently actually filmed in the Brazilian highlands.
The official site (Palace Films) is here

I spent one night in Lisbon in April , 2001, the first stop on a European trip that year.  I stayed in a hotel on top of the hill, and saw a lot of condo development that was said to be stimulated then by the Euro.  I took the subway once.  The next day, I took the night train to San Sebastian, Spain.  During the day, I took a bus trip to Fatima to see the shrine related to the Virgin Mary appearance.  I believe I caught sight of that place in the film. 

I saw this film at a late afternoon showing today at the West End Cinema in Washington DC, before a fair crowd for a weekday.  The film is in its second week there.  
Wikipedia attribution link for “Image of the Sun” at Fatima, here

Sunday, April 14, 2013

"Room 237": a "critical theory" documentary about the symbolism in Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" (Stephen King)

In recent years, studios have rewarded purchasers of BluRay DVD’s of high profile films with “making of” documentaries that may become feature-length documentaries of their own. 
The documentary “Room 237” accomplishes something like this as a “movie about movies” film concerning the 1980 classic,”The Shining”, Stanley Kubrick’s vision of Stephen King’s horror novel about a writer  (Jack Nicholson) to takes a job caretaking a Colorado hotel in winter, when his gifted son sees ghosts and evil in the patterns everywhere.  I saw the original film myself in Dallas in 1980 (at Northpark, I believe.)  
The documentary, kind of a recitation of comments by some other observers and writers like Bill Blakemore and Judy Kearns, advances a few core theories about the “meaning” of Kubrick’s film. One is to see it a metaphor for genocide, most of all of native Americans by European settlers (resulting in today’ s tribal reservation system with its casinos).  It adds to this metaphors based on the Holocaust, and even denial that Apollo really landed on the moon in 1969.  In the industry, this film is called a “critical theory” documentary. 
The documentary contains numerous clips from many of Kubrick’s other films, including “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “A Clockwork Orange”, and “Eyes Wide Shut”.  The documentary makes some comparisons between many of the images and even geometric patterns in the rooms of the hotel with the final “hotel on Jupiter” scene of 2001. 

The film also explains the significance of the choice of 237 as the critical room  number.
The layout of the Overlook hotel looks a little bit like a board game, reminding me not of “Clue” but of a less well known game “Mr. Ree” from the 1950s.  The documentary talks about the maze, which is not in the novel. 

The official site (IFC and Highland Park Films) is here

I saw the film today at the West End in Washington DC.  On a Sunday afternoon, a small auditorium nearly sold out.

Wikipedia attribution link for Mt. Hood picture, where some of the exteriors of “Shining” were filmed.
  I visited the area in July 1996.  

"The Place Beyond the Pines" is a large-canvas, 80's-style crime thriller

The Place Beyond the Pines”  (not “behind”) is a spot in the Adirondack foothills where a critical confrontation occurs between a father and son, of opposing families.  That doesn’t happen until near the end of this 140-minute crime drama that is styled in the fashion of major 70s and 80s classics (“The Deer Hunter”, based on the Vietnam era, comes to mind).  It is a film “in three parts”, and almost like three short films stitched together, each with its won BME (“beginning, middle, and end” in screenwrit9ing circles). 
The public comes into this film having been dazzled by previews with Ryan Gosling’s heavily tattooed (and necessarily “thmooth”) bod.  It’s not attractive.  Ryan is going from being nice boy to playing hardened professional criminals (as in “Drive”),  go down their courses because they believe they have to. As the movie starts in the 1990s, Luke Glanton is a broke motorcycle stunt rider (I was worked a show of motorcycle stunts at the Metrodome  in 2003 in a volunteer project) with a young boy and  (illegal immigrant) girl friend (Eva Mendes).  He meets a rural hobo (Craig von Hook) who introduces the idea of surviving and providing for his family with bank robberies with bike getaways.  After all, it’s just revolution against the capitalist pig system, right?  Nobody gets hurt. 
At the end of Part I, Luke’s luck runs out.  Cornered in a residential neighborhood, he invades a home.  The family escapes, and a policeman Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) shoots him dead in a confrontation. (The shooting scene seems to be done with a stunt double for Cooper.)   In Part II, Avery, a high-minded law school graduate who had decided to join the police force (Bradley Cooper still always plays nice guys) , deals with a scandal in which police officers  (led by Ray Liotta’s character) raid the homes of associates of dead criminals to keep money for themselves.  Avery, wounded in the confrontation but recovering physically over time,  sees an opportunity to turn his own life back toward law and politics,
Part III occurs 15 years later, after Avery’s father (instrumental in Avery’s handling of the scandal) has passes away.  In the aftermath of the funeral, Avery’s own teenage son (Emory Cohen, whose character displays too much chest hair for a teen) happens to meet Luke’s son Jason (Dane DeHaan).  Both are troubled and into underage drinking and drugs.  All of this leads to a confrontation where kids bear the sins of their fathers. 
The film, written and directed by Derek Cianfrance, who also developed  the story, which has the aspects of a Theodore Dreiser novel (or perhaps Cormac McCarthy).  It will lend itself to “novelization” for eBook sales, I’m sure.  The directorial style reminds one of the Coen Brothers, although there is less direct humor and irony.  The music score by Mike Patton broods with a curious triple-time rhythm, a kind of Ravel-like caricature of the waltz (“La Valse”). 
This is a big film, from Studio Canal and Sidney Kimmel, filmed in the Albany NY area.  In earlier decades, it would have been branded as a major studio release (Universal) rather than the “arthouse” label Focus. The link is here. The budget was $15 million.  I didn’t see any film festival notes on the site;  I would have expected a film like this to clean house at a major international festival.   I’m surprised to see it released early in the year, when it could have been in Oscar contention.
I saw this at the AMC Shirlington in the big auditorium late Saturday night.  There was a small crowd.  That older theater does not seem to have digital projection yet.  It also plays at the AMC Courthouse in Arlington, which is much more modern now after renovation (with reclined seats and enhanced digital projection), but was too late for that show.  AMC rarely shows a film at both theaters in Arlington VA.  It must have high expectation from this one.   

"They" don't make large-scale "realistic" films like this much anymore.  I love the film style of the 1980s.  

Friday, April 12, 2013

"42": The Jackie Robinson Story. How we miss Ebbets Field

The story of Jackie Robinson’s entry into baseball, and the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, as told in the new film “42” by Brian Helgeland, makes one point about bullying and social combat above all others.  People act like bigots because they believe they will treated as social inferiors by their own peers if they don’t.  Once an inflection point is achieved in social prejudice, “it gets better” pretty fast.

Rickey expected Jackie (Chadwick Boseman) to take up overcoming bigotry  -- by turning the other cheek -- as his own special sacrifice and challenge.  Most of the time he did.  He preceded Rosa Parks, and so did his wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie).  
It makes another libertarian point.  Eliminating prejudice is good business.  Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford)  decided, right after World War II, that he wanted African American players because hiring them would give him a competitive edge over other teams.  “Green” (money) doesn’t know race.

Groupthink was dangerous at first.  On their first road trip, in 1947, the Dodgers would find that their hotel in Philadelphia (the “city of brotherly love”) l refused to put up the team because of one black player.
The film also shows how Jackie’s aggressive baserunning  could take advantage of opponent’s (especially pitchers’) distractions.

The suspension of Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni) for having a mistress adds to the curious contradictions in the mores of the times.  
The shower scene has some visual anomalies.  And the script makes points that anticipate the course of some of the debate on gays in the military to occur almost fifty years later.  Remember, Truman integrated the military in 1948 (one year after the time period of this film), as demonstrated in the HBO film “Truman”.
The film recreates the old National League ballparks well.  I don’t know how it was done.  But besides Ebbets Field in Brooklyn (with its 297 foot right filed line and slanted wall), it shows the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, Forbes Field in Pittsburg, Crosley Field in Cincinnati, and Sportmans Park in St. Louis. 
The film has other technical inaccuracies, though.  There were no insterstate highways in 1946.  And in the climactic scene where Robinson hits a home run in Pittsburg (a long shot there), “Dem Bums” were on the road and had to survive the bottom of the ninth. 

The official site from Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures is here. Both companies used their musical trademarks this time.

The film points out the "42" is the only MLB uniform number completely retired. In Cincinnati at one point, Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black), puts his arm around Robinson and says, "Maybe we can all wear the number 42 so no one can tell us apart."

I saw the film at the Regal in Arlington VA Friday afternoon in a small auditorium, with a fair crowd for a weekday, on the opening day.

I started following MLB in 1953 at the age of 10.  By that time, black players were common.  I recall Larry Doby or the Cleveland Indians and Minnie Minoso of the Chicago White Sox.  I can't recall black players on the Washington Senators during that period.  

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of game at Ebbets Field in 1950.

Update: Feb. 20, 2017

At First Baptist, Washinton DC, pastor Julie Pennington-Russell treated Jackie's performance as an example of how to turn the other cheek, and the team knew it needed him to do this. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

"Underground: The Julian Assange Story" kick-starts FilmfestDC tonight

Filmfest DC for 2013 opened at the Regal Gallery Place with a showing on two screens of “Underground: The Julian Assange Story”, by Robert Connolly and Matchbox Films (Australia), based on the book by Suelette Dreyfus.

The film shows a teenage Julian (Alex Williams, who is quite charismatic in the role) taking after his mother’s (Rachel Griffiths) activism and learning to hack conventional telephone circuits with his home PC, and eventually spy on the US military’s plans during Desert Shield and Desert Storm during the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War.  (Assange claims, in a climactic film at his arrest, that he can prove that the US military knew it was deliberately killing civilians with air strikes in Iraq.)  The film starts in 1989 in Melbourne, Australia, and is quite interesting in showing the capabilities of technology  (like the Commodore or Apple with a dialup connection, and telnet Unix commands) at the time, just with dialup.  Remember “War Games” (1983)?
Julian’s mother demonstrates against things like using plutonium in space satellites. Julian already has a passion for journalism, for sleuthing and discovering the deepest secrets himself. 

Julian also becomes a father with his girl friend at around 18. I wondered how he was going to support his new family.  But he is driven by his passion.  One thing that helps him, too, is pure physical stamina.
I share the same passion, but more for collecting and collating all the arguments to present a complete, objective picture on the social justice issues, and sustainability. It’s not necessary to hack illegally (and I don’t know how to do it).  But sometimes people do pass information on even to me that probably is secret.

The closing credits explained the light sentence Assange got in 1991 from a sympathetic judge.  It summarizes briefly his founding of Wikileaks in 2006.  
The official site for the film is here.

The showing (sold out in two large auditoriums tonight) was followed by a live phone call to Assange at his political asylum hideout in the Ecuador Embassy in London.  He spoke for about twenty minutes.

Assange said that the Internet can mark either the down fall or salvation of civilization. He said we have no privacy anymore.  All of us are practically compelled to display our lives on social media. He also has mellowed a bit on the importance of government, saying government has to protect the rights of the people but needs stability and control to do so.  

There was an opening night party at Bar Louie, also in the Verizon Center, with a spicy Mexican hors d’oeuvres table.  A supplementary CD offering featurettes and the screenplay text was provided. 

The film should be compared to "We Are Legion", reviewed here June 25, 2012.  Also there is "Julian Assange: A Modern Day Hero" on Sept. 19, 2012, and :WikiRebels" on Dec. 12, 2012;  and The 40 minute Bradley Manning video of friendly fire in Iraq, "Collateral Murder" may be viewed from an embed in an April 7, 2010 review on my "Films on major threats to freedom" blog (check my Profile).  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"The Silence": a well-paced thriller about the guilt of an accidental accomplice

The Silence” (“Das letzte Schweigen”), from Baran bo Odar, presents the idea that a man can pay for the sins of someone else as well as his own.  But we he does so, he probably has more skeletons in his own closet.  It’s the law of karma.
As the film opens, on a July day in 1986 in a forest in Germany, a girl is riding a bicycle when a car starts to follow her. The rape and murder by the driver Peer (Ulrich Thomson) is horrific, and his companion Timo (Wotan Wilke Mohring) seems shocked at first, but then seems to go along.
Twenty-three years later on the same date, another girl disappears at the same spot.  The film develops the police and media investigation, with reference to the similarities of the past.  Slowly, Peer and Timo come back into the story.  The film really doesn’t show them as aged as much as would be expected.
But there is a twist this time.  The companion has a dark side, revealed by what is on his computer.  
Curiously, Peer has lived rather cleanly as an apartment handyman for some two decades.
The official site is here. The film is distributed in the US my Music Box.
I saw the film at the West End Cinema in Washington DC during an afternoon show. 

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

"Chain Letter": in email, it's probably a TOS violation; in life, it can be deadly

In the early days of email, especially on AOL, sending or even forwarding a “Chain Letter” was against Terms of Service, for “collective” reasons.  I can remember, back in 1964, getting a real chain letter in the mail.  If I would send a quarter, I would get back $64 in quarters.  I actually got back 2.

The horror film “Chain Letter” (2010)  starts with a principle and a premise.  After a graphic opening, which is repeated to close the film and give it an incomplete “Pulp Fiction” structure, we see a high school history teacher lecturing students on the idea that technology may have cost people their privacy. In the good old days, before cell phones, your phone messages waited for you at home.  By the mid 1970s, having an answering machine was considered a necessary advance.
In the movie, some likable high school kids (some of whom look a little too mature, with widow’s peaks or thinning hair) start getting chain letters (sometimes in chat rooms).  Students who delete their instance of the chain letter get hunted down and dealt gruesome deaths with S&M chain equipment.
There is a theory that the lone wolf (or maybe groups) is another super Luddite of the Unabomber or Ted Kaczynski (mentioned in the film), who wants to make a point, that those who “depend” on technology will get their just desserts.  Of course, one can extend that point into discussions of our whole society’s vulnerability to severe or even permanent disruption from solar storms or terrorist EMP attacks.
The word “chain letter” is also used in epidemiology, of course.

The site for the film, directed by Deon Taylor, is here. The DVD is distributed by Image, and the original release was from New Films International (no relation to New Line Cinema). 
For today’s short film, look up “Lloyd Neck” (15 min), by Benedict Campbell, from 2008 Sundance.  In this gentle film, college track star Taylor (Aaron Michael Davies) begins to realize that his younger sister Alex (Carina Goldbach) has a crush on his own techie boyfriend Jesse (Brian Dare).

Sunday, April 07, 2013

"On the Road": a young writer tastes real life with his "friends", taking off all over the country, right after WWII

When use the term “On the Road”, I usually picture myself in a chain hotel, with my electronics, including a smaller travel laptop, and limited supplies otherwise. To a baseball team, it means having to survive the bottom of the ninth inning.

When I was a graduate student at the University of Kansas, in December 1966, a few of us rode from Lawrence to San Francisco, crashing somewhere around Redwood City, then drove north to Seattle and Vancouver, before I flew home for Christmas.  I had never been west of Topeka, at 23.  We drove an “in transit” car from Kansas City and “took off”.

With films from American Zeotrope and Francis Ford Coppola behind them, you never know. “On the Road” (dir. Walter Salles) looks like an eclectic period piece (set in the late 1940s), made in the style of an 80s or early 90s' film (like "Barton Fink" or "Thelma and Louise"). Sal (Sam Riley, playing a character patterned after the novel author Jack Keruoac) is a young writer (everything on typewriters, and you couldn’t publish yourself), and has the adventure of young manhood crisscrossing the country several times with his less stable friends, especially Dean Moriarity (Garrett Hedund), who is uncertain about the idea of marriage and fatherhood with teen Maylou (Kristen Stewart).
This is a pre-McCarthy world (just barely), where men embrace and hug one another, as long as there are women around to make babies.  Dean gradually comes to be shown as bisexual, willing to “do me” for money in one scene.   Tom Sturridge plays Carlo Marx, a character patterned after Alan Ginsberg (review Nov. 26, 2010), and he definitely "gets it" in one early scene; Viggo Mortensen plays old Bull Lee, based on Edgar Rice Burroughs (March 1, 2012). 

There's a bit of class consciousness in the film, since Sal's hands are soft, and he gets criticized in metaphor for his low output when working in a cotton field in California,

The site for the film (also called “The Mad Ones”) is here. http://themadones.us/ , and it is distributed by IFC and Sundance Channel, but it was made with all kinds of resources, including Film4 in the UK, French television, Icon, Canada, and studios in Louisiana and Arizona.  It is also distributed by Lionsgate in the UK.
I saw the film at the West End Cinema Sunday Night.  I had played at Landmark R Street last week.  

Saturday, April 06, 2013

"Future by Design": the work of inventor Jacque Fresco

The documentary “Future by Design” (2006), by William Gazecki, presents the work of architect and inventor Jacque Fresco, who is viewed as a modern Leonardo Da Vinci.

Most of the film consists of Fresco talking, while animations of his planned communities, cities and other inventions are show.  There are also many clips from an August 1974 television review on Larry King Live.
Fresco imagined a utopian world which could function without money (even the bitcoin).  People would still work because of “need” but would do work that they enjoy.  Materials would become intelligence, and buildings would construct themselves, not only with robotics but also with “memory materials” which he explains in molecular terms.  The concept is interesting, but the way he applies it would seem to contradict the notion of entropy in physics.

Much of his work was done around a planned community in Venus, FL, where people in individual homes could not see other homes through the vegetation.

Fresco believes that most people’s value systems develop to support established power structures, which are often religious.  He believes only primitive civilizations have war, crime, and want.  There is a question of how develop his communities (some underwater!) without considering individual people and how they relate to the whole.  He doesn’t mention climate change specifically.
The official site (from Open Edge) is here. The film played in many smaller festivals.  

Fresco is now of age 97 and lives in Brooklyn, NY, Wikipedia here